Seriously Good Food In A Festive Setting

DINING OUT

January 30, 1994|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Tersiguel's, 8293 Main St., Ellicott City, (410) 465-4004. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair-accessible: no. Prices: appetizers, $5.25-

$7.95; entrees, $14.95-$26.95. *** I'm still waiting for someone around here to open a French restaurant and call it a Parisian restaurant. Or at least just a French restaurant, not a French country restaurant. What is this anyway? What's so country about a place that serves chateaubriand and duck a l'orange? Where the servers are formally dressed and customers wear coats and ties?

To be fair, perhaps Tersiguel's calls itself a French country restaurant simply to suggest guests can be comfortable here, and to urge them not to feel intimidated by the Frenchness of it all.

The setting isn't formal; perhaps the name is meant to suggest that as well. Fernand and Odette Tersiguel, originally from Brittany, opened Chez Fernand in Ellicott City some 20 years ago. In the '80s, after a devastating fire, they moved their restaurant to downtown Baltimore.

The Tersiguels sold Chez Fernand and moved back to Ellicott City in 1990. For their new restaurant, they chose a charming, three-story white clapboard house on Main Street, the home of the town's dentist and mayor at the turn of the century. They named it Tersiguel's.

The house, with its small, cozy rooms, has been lovingly restored. The fireplaces in the rooms, lace curtains, comfortably spaced tables and fresh flowers help create an atmosphere that's festive and not at all stuffy. Yet at the same time, the setting somehow suggests this is a restaurant that's serious about its food.

That food includes a recited list of specials -- recited without prices, I might add. When you hear the list the first time it sounds wonderful. By the fifth time, in these small dining rooms, you'll be sick and tired of it.

The specials are the most creative offerings of the kitchen. A duck gizzard salad was fabulous, the velvety, chewy slices of gizzard a vibrant contrast to the matchsticks of tart-sweet Granny Smith apples, goat cheese, and the buttery and crisp textures of good lettuces, radicchio and Belgian endive. The glorious result was enhanced by a warm balsamic vinaigrette.

From the specials list also came three little rolls of flounder stuffed with smoke trout mousse. The combination sounded wonderful when our waitress described it, but in practice the delicious smoky flavor of the mousse masked the fresh taste of the flounder. Saffron added a pretty color to the sauce, but the flavor was too subtle to stand up to the smoked fish.

The dish came with little boiled potatoes, perfectly done snow peas and sliced carrots. I couldn't resist ordering asparagus as well, just to remind us of spring, and they were worth every penny of the extra cost. The fat, carefully peeled spears were crisp-tender and flavorful, napped with a seductive bit of hollandaise and a festive sprinkling of minced red pepper and parsley.

From the regular menu I can recommend without reservation the house pate, a homey, comforting blend of pork and chicken livers, served with tiny olives, cornichons and a good mustard. A silky, not-too-salty smoked salmon arranged with capers, chopped egg, onion and croutons is another possibility. And I loved the miniature mushroom caps stuffed with minced ham and cheese in a delicate butter sauce.

None of the main courses quite reached the heights of those starters, although I liked both the choices from the regular menu better than the stuffed flounder. Best were riz de veau Nantua, the tender sweetbreads sauteed gently and served in a sauce of cream and shrimp essence, with two pink shrimp for garnish. Wild rice, snow peas and carrots accompanied it.

Perhaps I was prejudiced by the price of the rack of lamb, $27, but the small chops didn't seem quite that superb. They were tender and cooked to almost perfect pinkness as ordered, and I liked the dark and winey sauce with its touch of sweetness. But still . . .

Make some room for dessert -- I won't say save room; that would be difficult with all the good things that come before. All are made on the premises. My favorite will no longer be available, unfortunately. It was a slice of Yule log, an ethereal chocolate sponge cake wrapped around a decadent chocolate cream and decorated with one perfect meringue mushroom. I could have lTC done without the raspberry sauce, which seems to be de rigueur here even if it's gilding the lily and served in lakes rather than pools.

A fresh fruit tart ran a close second to the holiday log. The fresh strawberries, grapes and kiwi in a suave pastry cream were nestled in a crisp cookielike pastry shell. And for serious coffee lovers only, there's a creme au cafe: a creamy, deeply coffee-flavored flan with a swirl of whipped cream and a shard or two of chocolate.

Since Tersiguel's is a self-described country French restaurant, you don't expect formal service here; but our meal could have been better paced. We had a longer wait than I would have expected for our main courses, and the busboy didn't remember we had asked for more coffee until he brought the check. On the whole, though, the evening was a success -- as I gather this latest venture of Fernand and Odette Tersiguel is, judging from how busy Tersiguel's was on a raw, rainy week night just before Christmas.

Next: Jumbo Seafood

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